Here are my babies after working on them for so long! Thanks everyone for all the comments! Much appreciated!
Sorry for those who wanted a happy ending for Jin Sway. I didn’t include it precisely because at this point in time, it made the story really awkward. I need to have a bigger story for it, in which case would squeeze out my MWIL story. I couldn’t do it, ‘cos I simply adore Charlotte. 🙂
Hence, I decided to brighten things up by giving Charlotte a happy ending.
Don’t worry, I will do Jin Sway justice so stay tuned for Jin Sway’s prequel and happy ending ok?
The afternoon was warm and humid. Never before in Singapore had the weather been so bad. The sun shone through the windows of the bus, searing into his bronze skin. He shifted his hand ever so slightly to keep it out of the sun. The bus ride had been bumpy all the way. As the Sunday crowd was starting to thicken, crowding up the bus and causing it to feel stuffier than it already was, he moved uneasily in his seat, taking a deep breath and trying to clear his mind.
Jin was a tall, thirty-two-year-old businessman. Recently he had started a business, what he called a clothing line. In actual fact, he was selling clothes pegs. People in Singapore usually hang their laundry to dry in the sun on bamboo sticks and that would be where his products would come in. They would hold down the laundry, not just preventing them from being blown away by the wind, but from theft too. His pegs, after all, were different. They were made of metal clasps with two plastic handles in which tiny security buttons were attached to them. Once activated, any slightest touch of it would trigger off an alarm that would alert the owner that someone else was trying to steal his or her laundry. The security buttons would run on solar power, generated from the solar panels attached on the outer side of the metal clasp. Jin always thought it was the best idea, since his wife had always complained about someone stealing her lingerie at night. Even though they had found out that the thief was their three-year-old cat, Nibbles, the problem had inspired Jin’s creations. Little did he know that his invention would backfire, landing him with huge amounts of business debts. Not only that, his wife’s chemotherapy bills, which he had expected to clear once he made money from his business, were slowly piling up. His wife’s situation had also deteriorated over the weeks since he started working on his inventions and she had decided to listen to the doctor’s advice to move into the hospital instead. In order to cope with these bills, he had to sell his jet-black Audi convertible and his three-storey landed property in Sixth Avenue. And that was not all! He was also left with a whole bedroom, kitchen and storeroom of pegs and had no idea of what to do with them.
With the failure of his only investment, he had moved into a modest flat in Choa Chu Kang, next to a tiny heartland mall called Sunshine Place. He had changed his entire closet of Armani Exchange suits and Crocodile polo shirts into Giordano cotton tees. As he sat there in the bus on the way to the nearest MRT station, he was wearing his favourite white shirt from Giordano that had a smiley face on it that said, “Cheer You Up!” His wife had suggested them to get identical ones for couple shirts, since they could no longer afford expensive apparel. To their utter astonishment, they found entire streets of Singaporeans wearing them wherever they went. His wife had stopped wearing the shirt since then, but he continued wearing it out whenever he missed her too much.
The bus turned into the bus interchange and he hopped off, tapping his Ez-link card as he went. He made his way to the MRT station, passed the gantry and up the escalator, taking care to keep to his left as he cruised up to the station platform. He felt weird not having his wife by his side when taking the train, or even when going anywhere at all. He was used to holding her hand tight and looking into her soft, tender eyes ever so often. The warmth of her hand was still lingering on his fingers even as he thought about her. She was so frail when he last saw her that it broke his heart.
He stared at the electronic signboard that counted down to the train arrival as he stepped onto the platform. Three minutes to the arrival of his train. He closed his eyes and in his mind, he could still see his wife. Her sweet smile, the fruity scent of her perfume, her tinkling laughter…
A gentle tap on his shoulder woke him up.
“Excuse me,” a bossy voice rang out from the back. “I might be mistaken. But you are Mr. Jin Sway, aren’t you?”
He whirled around to see a middle-aged woman, dressed in plain tee-shirt and jeans and wearing Nike sports shoes standing in front of him. As their eyes met, the woman’s face lit up with glee.
“You really are! I saw you in the papers and bought your pegs! They’re great!”
“Really? I’m flattered. Thank you,” Jin replied modestly.
“But they are a little on the expensive side. It took up my entire month’s pay.”
“I understand,” he continued.
“What inspired you to make them?” the woman questioned.
“My wife,” he told her simply. He recounted the story of the stolen lingerie.
Suddenly at the back of his mind, the laughing image of his wife faded. It was replaced by her thinning face, head bald from the chemotherapy, her eyes filled with pain, sadness and fatigue. Just recounting things to a stranger made him realize how much time he had lost just doing the business while she was so critically ill and how much he actually missed her. He was going to meet her now and this thought made him even more excited than ever. Most of the time he tried to retain memories of his wife’s happy moments. It was what that kept him going after she moved away. Although his last visit was only a day ago, his eyes sparkled with excitement as they flickered to the electronic signboard. One minute. He followed suit as the woman moved to queue up to get onto the train. He had not told his wife that he would be going to see her that day. It would be a pleasant surprise.
His hands fiddled with the wedding ring still sitting on his ring finger while a smile played on his lips. He could remember the first day they met in school, under the old tree filled with ants. He could recall the first time they went on a date, sitting on the grass patch next to the giant canal where he caught pretty fighting fishes for her. He could still feel the pain when they fought that day over moving out of the terrace house and into the small apartment… But no matter, he was going to her now, going to apologize for all the pain he had caused her. Without her, he would never have come this far, even if he was left penniless. She was something, someone he could never do without.
“Where are you heading to, Mr Sway?” the woman’s voice rang out again, turning round to address him once more as the electronic signboard started flashing and the train moved into the station. But Jin was no longer next to her. He was moving, fast, towards the edge of the platform, shouting something no one could hear – for a horrified scream had drowned his voice as he took an intrepid step off the platform and disappeared beneath the train.
Crossroad © 2010 by Ms. Auby Sparksfield. All rights reserved.
Mummy, What is Love?
The dressing room was decorated with flowers, pink, red and white. Ribbons hung from walls. On the couch was a beautiful bridal dress, white, simple and plain. But yet the lady whom would be wearing it would bring out its brilliance and complement her beauty.
Charlotte was getting married today. Her bridesmaids were running around the room, gathering stuff that was to be ready for the ceremony later, while she changed into the white gown and put on her makeup. She looked into the mirror as the hairstylist did her hair. She wanted to look like a princess, and she did. Through the mirror, she caught my eye and smiled.
“Mummy, did you feel as nervous as I was on your wedding day too?” Charlotte enquired. I smiled and nodded.
Charlotte had always been an inquisitive girl ever since she was young. She would ask questions about anything at all. She used to love to ask questions on animals and plants, on science and religion. Sometimes, her questions would seem too mature for her age. I used to wonder if it was a fault at exposing her to too many things at such a young age. After all, she did not live the life most other little girls did. I could even remember vividly the day she asked me a question that no four-year-old girl would… …
*** *** ***
We were sitting at the couch near the fireplace and I was reading her stories while she snuggled up to me, eating marshmallows. As usual, the book of Cinderella was open on my lap. After I finished the story, however, Charlotte clearly wanted more.
“Mummy, what is love?” she asked, her eyes wide and sparkling with curiosity. I could see the firelight reflecting in her huge, brown eyes. She had her father’s eyes.
“Well, sweetie, love is when you want to make your loved ones happy,” I told her simply, knowing it would be difficult for her to understand. She did not. Her eyes narrowed as she took my words in and shook her head.
“Tell me a story on that and I’ll understand,” she demanded playfully, snuggling closer to me.
“Ok. Here goes,” I began. “Once upon a time, there was a peasant girl. She was really hardworking but poor. She lived in a village with her parents and worked in the fields for they had no money to send her to school. When she was eighteen, she would sneak off to the village school to listen the lessons secretly from outside the classroom. This went on for a few months.
One day, as she was sneaking outside a classroom, she walked into another boy. He was tall and well-dressed. The peasant girl thought that he was going to get angry, but he didn’t.
‘I’ve seen you listening to the lessons outside for quite some time now. Why don’t you go to school?’ he asked.
‘I’ve no money,’ the girl replied him.
The boy thought for a moment, then took her hand and led her to one of the benches near the fields. There, he taught her everything he learnt in school.
Since then, they would meet there every afternoon. The peasant girl liked him very much, but did not dare to tell him. A few months after they met, she decided to repay his kindness. She did not know what she could do, for she had no money to buy him gifts, nor did she have any talent. She was not like the princesses, who could sing and dance for him. So she ran to the market, got some flour, eggs and butter and started baking some cookies for him.
He loved the cookies, Charlotte, and even told her to teach him how to make them. From then on, they met up quite a lot, the peasant girl to learn the things in school from him, and the boy to learn how to make cookies. This went on for a long, long while. Occasionally, he would bring her out to picnic in the gardens, teach her how to fly kites and bring her fishing. She enjoyed the days with him and wanted them to go on forever, but she knew it could not be, for when the boy turned nineteen, he was to go join the army. He had to become a knight to fight for the land, to defend his country and to protect the king. She was not allowed to see him for a long, long time, not at least until he had completed his training.
The peasant girl was really sad when he was gone. She could not sleep at night. Sometimes she cried herself to sleep. She was in so much pain that she hardly ever smiled anymore. While she was gone, she decided to go work in the village bakery instead of farming at the fields with her parents. She wanted to learn how to bake different kinds of cookies so when he came back, she could bake them for him.
That day finally came when the peasant girl turned twenty-one. A boy, tall and fit stepped into the bakery. No, Charlotte, he wasn’t dressed in an armor, but he rode a horse. He walked into the kitchens, gave the peasant girl a hug and whipped out the sunflowers he had been hiding behind his back.
‘I missed you,’ he told her.
She missed him too. She was so happy to see him that tears came into her eyes. They went back to the old days when they were baking, fishing and having picnics at the garden. Every day, she brought different cookies and cakes to the picnics. He loved eating them very much.
One day, he brought her to a street just round the corner of the marketplace. There, he led her to a small shop.
‘I bought this shop. We could set up our own bakery here. You could be the baker and I could help with the customers!’ he said excitedly.
The peasant girl was so happy. She could make money and do what she liked! The business in the bakery was good, Charlotte. They made lots of money. Within a year, she was able to buy a little cottage. Her life changed for the better.
And there came Christmas night, when the boy brought her to one of the gardens they used to go for picnics. There, he had decorated the place with little lights and candles. He took her hand and led her to one of the benches.
‘Will you marry me?’ he asked her, pulling out a ring from his pocket.
The peasant girl could not believe it, but pulled him into a hug as she said yes. Fireworks shot up high into the sky. It was the best night she ever had.
But the story was not over, sweetie. You see, there was a terrible, terrible day when the boy met with an accident. He died. The peasant girl was upset. She cried every day and night. She could no longer bake good cookies. She would sit in the garden where he proposed to her and sit there, crying. But one night, she thought she heard his voice.
‘Stay happy, my love,’ the voice said. ‘I wish to see you happy.’
She pulled herself together and started baking again. With the help of her parents, the shop was back to business. Every day she baked, even though her heart was filled with sorrow, because she knew that wherever he was, he would be looking at her and he would be happy to see that she had gone back to doing something she liked again.
So, Charlotte dear, this is love. No matter what happened to the peasant girl or the boy, they would try to keep each other happy, even when the boy wasn’t around anymore.” I finished with the story, but Charlotte was not satisfied. She lay in my arms, tears coursing down her cheeks.
“Mummy, there is no happy ending,” she sobbed. I picked her up and gave her a tight hug.
“Of course there is a happy ending, my dear. You see, when he left the girl, he gave her a present she could keep forever. Not the bakery, no. He gave her a little girl, their baby, and her name was Charlotte.”
*** *** ***
I watched from above as our Charlotte walked along the aisle in the church towards her handsome groom waiting before the podium. She was beautiful in her white dress; her hair was tastefully done, with a tiara sitting on top of her head. She looked exactly like a princess. The room was filled with our relatives, and his, of course. I shifted my gaze from our daughter and looked around the room for her mother. There she was, standing at the front bench, her eyes closed and her hands clasped together in a prayer. I could hear her speak, even though her mouth did not move an inch.
“My dear, if you could see this now, you’ll be so proud of our Charlotte,” she was whispering to me as tears flowed down her cheeks.
I am, my love, I am.